Harvey Weinstein wants his money back.
The convicted rapist is suing his one-time lawyer Jose Baez for breach of contract and is seeking a refund on $1 million in legal fees he says he paid the high-profile attorney for a short stint on his legal team.
Weinstein alleges Baez was regularly preoccupied with other matters, pawned off important work on other lawyers, was often unavailable to speak with him about his New York City rape case and later provided fraudulent billing records.
Baez, a Florida-based lawyer best known for representing Casey Anthony, joined Weinstein’s defense in January 2019 and left six months later, saying the former movie mogul had tarnished their relationship by communicating only through other lawyers and by failing to abide by a fee agreement.
Weinstein, in the lawsuit filed Tuesday, claims he agreed to pay Baez and another lawyer $2 million in $200,000 monthly payments for their defense work on the landmark #MeToo case but that Baez violated New York law by stating in his agreement that his retainer was non-refundable and non-negotiable.
Messages seeking comment were left for Baez.
Weinstein, 69, was convicted in February 2020 of raping an aspiring actress in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a production assistant in 2006. He is serving a 23-year sentence in state prison. Last month, his lawyers filed appeal paperwork demanding a new trial.
Weinstein also faces a likely extradition to California, where he is charged with assaulting five women in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills from 2004 to 2013.
Details of Weinstein’s lawsuit against Baez were reported by Law 360.
Weinstein hired Baez, Harvard Law professor Ronald Sullivan and two other lawyers after splitting with Benjamin Brafman, the pugnacious New York City defense lawyer who’d been with him since his arrest in 2018.
Baez first gained fame for representing Anthony, the Florida mom whose televised trial in 2011 ended in an acquittal on charges accusing her of killing her young daughter. Baez and Sullivan successfully defended New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez against murder charges in 2017. Hernandez, in prison for a 2015 murder conviction, killed himself five days later.
Sullivan left Weinstein’s case in May amid backlash about his involvement.
Weinstein then asked Baez for an accounting of his work but Baez refused and threatened to leave the case unless he was immediately paid $1 million to cover the remainder of the agreed upon fee, according to Weinstein’s lawsuit.
A few weeks later, Baez wrote the judge presiding over the case that Weinstein made representing him “unreasonably difficult” and insisted on taking actions “with which I have fundamental disagreements”.
In July 2019, Judge James Burke approved Baez’s departure from the case. As he left the courtroom, Baez said: “I feel like I won the lottery. Just kidding.”
Weinstein continued to press the issue of legal fees with Baez, and last September his lawyer demanded a full accounting of Baez’s work on the case.
Baez’s office responded with a spreadsheet tallying $1,028,227 in fees, the lawsuit said. – AP
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